Carleton students looking out for homeless during pandemic

Carleton students looking out for homeless during pandemic

Two students from Carleton University are making it their mission to help Ottawa's homeless through the COVID-19 crisis.

Because some shelter programs have temporarily closed in response to the pandemic, many of the vulnerable people who rely on those services are now out on the street.

"I feel like everyone's clearing out the stores and not worrying about the man who's outside with nothing to eat, nothing to drink and nowhere to sleep," said Taijah Cox-Armstrong, 19, a second-year undergraduate student from Mississauga.

In response, Cox-Armstrong and her roommate, Rhea D'Souza, also 19, are assembling "street survival kits" and distributing them to homeless people in the ByWard Market.

Stu Mills/CBC

It's a revival of what the pair call The Lotus Project, an initiative Cox-Armstrong launched last summer when she solicited enough donations from friends and family to assemble and distribute 160 survival kits to vulnerable people in her hometown.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a powerful symbol of purity and enlightenment because, while the plant grows in muddy water, the delicate and beautiful flower rises above the murk to bloom brilliantly on the surface.

"It's a symbol to rise above the bad things that happen to you life," D'Souza explained. "That's what we are offering."

Last week the pair donned gloves and masks and handed out 11 of the kits. Each care package contains two pairs of socks, two packets of biscuits, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, a bar of soap, a can of tuna and a small first aid kit.

Stu Mills/CBC

D'Souza and Cox-Armstrong haven't been able to find a source for hand sanitizer, masks or gloves to include, but they're still looking.

Each resealable plastic bag contains a hand-written message: "Be safe, better days coming."

Cox-Armstrong said homeless people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they can't self-isolate at home, like health officials recommend.

"We're supposed to be self-isolating, but people are still out here. That's not fair to them," she said.

The students are hoping to hand out 300 kits.